Half a year is a long time in politics, but when you are trailing in the polls it might not feel like it is long enough.
That is where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finds itself six months to go before the autumn election.
And when past prime ministers have been in this spot before, it generally hasn’t ended well for them.
Since the Second World War, when political public opinion polling first started in Canada, the governing party has trailed in the polls to eight months prior to the following election nine times.
On two occasions, that party was reduced to a minority government. On five occasions, it had been defeated. On only two occasions did it secure a majority.
For parties that led in the polls this far out from election day, it is a much different picture: of the 14 such cases since 1945, the party top has been defeated only 3 times.
That’s a bad historical precedent for Prime Minister Trudeau.
According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the Liberals path the Conservatives with a margin of 2.5 percentage points, with 32.7 percent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s party.
Poll Tracker: Conservatives lead over Liberals slips to 3 factors Typically, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed at the polls by a margin of 3 points in the six-month mark. Those parties which proceeded to re-election with a majority government enjoyed a typical lead of 12 points in the six-month mark.
Obviously, much can change in six days before an election, let alone six months. Still, the historical record reveals it’s definitely better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.
Past prime ministers have overcome wider polling deficits than the one Trudeau faces now. But these were cases that are exceptional.
Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were supporting Lester Pearson’s Liberals with a margin of six factors. In the end, Diefenbaker was able to continue but was shipped back to Ottawa with a shaky minority government that met its end within a year.
In early 1988, Brian Mulroney’s PCs were behind by seven points. But Mulroney was able to turn the November federal election into a referendum on the free trade arrangement with the United States, maintaining his party in power from the procedure.
At the end of 1967, the Liberals were trailing the PCs and their newly installed chief, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It required a change of direction of the own for the Liberals to win 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.
Pierre Trudeau barely surpassed the odds again after just 1 term in 1972. He had been behind Stanfield moving into that autumn’s election and arose with a minority government.
That is not the only example that’s some recognizable (as well as familial) relations to the current Trudeau government. The Liberals were trailing behind the PCs with a similar margin in the end of 1978, until Joe Clark’s short-lived minority government has been elected in 1979.
There are a number of exceptions on the opposite side of the ledger, too. Louis St-Laurent dropped despite a 17-point lead to 1957 following 22 years of Liberal government, Paul Martin was ahead by 10 points in 2005 until he lost his lead to the Conservatives over the course of the 2005-06 campaign. And Stephen Harper was narrowly ahead in 2015 in the mark, though that was due to the opposition vote being split between Trudeau’s Liberals and Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats.
Scheer, Singh on par with predecessors
Both the Conservatives and the NDP are roughly where those parties tend to be at this stage of the pre-election period.
At just over 35 percent nationally, Scheer’s celebration is all about even with where past Conservative parties under different leaders have stood with six months to go. Excluding the run-up into the 1997 and 2000 elections — when the right was split between the PCs and the Reform/Canadian Alliance parties — the Conservatives have averaged 34 percent service with six months to go before an election.
It is a degree of support that may go either way. Clark’s celebration was at 37 per cent at this point prior to his defeat in 1980, while Diefenbaker’s PCs were at 37 percent before he had been reduced to a minority government in 1962. Stanfield’s celebration had 35 per cent support in the six-month mark until he held Pierre Trudeau to some minority in 1972, while Harper’s Conservatives were at 35 per cent before he had been re-elected in 2008.
The NDP’s current standing in the polls is very typical for the party this far out from voting day. With 15.3 per cent, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is only marginally below the 16 percent average the celebration and its predecessor, the CCF, have handled at this point in election cycles since 1945. It places Singh directly in the middle of the bunch of historic NDP performances.
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